SANTA FE, N.M. — There is little question that New Mexico in general, and Santa Fe in particular, is rich in the arts.
Paintings, sculpture, jewelry, folk art and music are all celebrated in numerous galleries and huge or extended festivals and markets. The City Different has all that tenfold.
But comedy – an art form unto itself – has never taken center stage.
Jessica Baxter is looking to change that, at least for one gloriously hilarious weekend.
Baxter, the events director for the Santa Fe Opera, is the ringmaster for the three-ring circus that is the CloudTop Comedy Festival, set to get folks giggling aplenty starting Thursday and continuing through the weekend.
“I’ve worked in classical music for almost 20 years and I’ve been secretly obsessed with comedy for 10 of those years,” she said. “I’ve spent about 10 years dreaming about this and I decided it was time.”
Headliners include Fortune Feimster (of NBC’s “Champions,” Hulu’s “The Mindy Project” and Comedy Central), Maria Bamford (Netflix’s “Lady Dynamite,” Comedy Central and just about every late-night TV show) and The Second City’s Hollywood troupe. But more than 50 comedic acts will do their thing at the festival.
“The diversity of special events and performing arts offerings in Santa Fe is astounding, yet the CloudTop Comedy Festival found an untapped niche,” said Randy Randall, executive director of Tourism Santa Fe. “We are pleased to support this new event that brings the joy of comedy into many of our historic and unique Santa Fe venues.”
There will be open mics, as well as an up-and-comers night for which the festival solicited five-minute routines from comedians across the country. Local comic Corey Herrera from Cochiti Pueblo was among those who made the cut.
“There are a lot of funny comedians who aren’t household names, but probably should be,” Baxter said. “We had a submission process and we had 140 comics submit. We selected our favorite 11. It was going to be 10, but we couldn’t make up our mind. We’re bringing in these people from far and wide.”
While the public takes in the shows, many of the comics will be showing what they can do for a larger audience.
“I think it gives our hard-working local comics a bigger platform,” Baxter said. “And for people who already like comedy, it’s a chance to experience it live. If you’re home every weekend watching a Netflix comedy special, put down the remote and come watch.”
Baxter began working on the project 13 months ago with old-fashioned hard work, going out to Los Angeles, knocking on agents’ door and seeking out comics that would agree to attend.
It helped that Meow Wolf, the burgeoning and acclaimed arts concern that is expanding from Santa Fe to other locations around the country, stepped up as the presenting sponsor, she said.
That not only provided some working capital, but also added legitimacy to the event and allowed her to attract additional local sponsors.
While comedy can be ribald, it was also important to Baxter to make the event attractive all members of the family, so on Sunday there is a children’s show by the Second City troupe.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” she said. “It’s going to be interactive improv and they’re going to pull kids up on stage. It’s a fun, family activity.”
One of the intriguing aspects to the event is that there are ways to reduce your admission fee. For instance, Baxter said, anyone who volunteers for a night gets a wristband to attend for another night.
“We’re definitely not in this for the money,” Baxter said. “We’re doing this because want to do everything we can to promote comedy and Santa Fe.”
While it took a tremendous effort and community involvement to pull the whole event together, the response has Baxter believing this could be more than a one-time show.
“Hopefully, this is the first of many to come,” she said. “I wouldn’t be lying if I said I’d love to see it really blossom. The idea is to bring all this talent for one magical weekend. A big part of the charm of bringing it to Santa Fe is it’s such a magical place. It’s as much about Santa Fe as it about comedy.”